Thursday, April 13, 2006

An Explosive Move

The Times:
Iran’s provocative boast that it has successfully enriched uranium has been received with almost universal condemnation. In language that is strikingly, and deliberately, similar, America, Britain, France and Russia yesterday spoke of a “step in the wrong direction”, and called on Iran to respect its obligations and stop its nuclear activities. The message from these four permanent Security Council members will be delivered in person in Tehran today by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And underlining the seriousness of the Iranian breach, Condoleezza Rice yesterday urged the United Nations to take “serious steps” to deal with the threat.

The angry reaction is music to the ears of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s maverick President. Since taking office, he has made every effort to sabotage negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme. He has sought at every opportunity to turn the nuclear issue into a question of national pride and sovereignty. And he has coupled this with bellicose pronouncements on Israel and America as a ploy to rekindle at home the anti-Western fervour so lacking among Iran’s youth.

His aim is transparent. A populist with little political experience, Mr Ahmadinejad came to power on the back of a massive protest vote and extravagant promises to the poor. These, he soon found, cannot be delivered. To avoid the inevitable opprobrium, he has resorted to the old tactic of creating a foreign threat to divert attention. The greater the threat, the more he can rally his opponents and silence those seeking to sideline him. So far, it is proving successful. Even the former President, Hojatol- eslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, his electoral rival who now heads Iran’s influential Expediency Council, yesterday cautioned that pressure on Iran “might not have good consequences for the region and the world”.

Mr Ahmadinejad appears to have overestimated Iran’s strength, however. The general speculation that a US military strike is unlikely and that oil sanctions are unenforceable may have given Tehran the impression that it is unassailable. This is far from the case. At the UN it is isolated. However critical France has been of US actions in Iraq, Paris has strongly backed a firm line against Iran. More significantly, Russia also is committed to ending Iranian nuclear adventurism, and was outspoken in its condemnation.

Russia holds the key to concerted pressure. It was Moscow that began building Iran’s nuclear facilities and it is on Russian fuel deliveries that the programme depends. Moscow, however, is far from happy with Iran’s deception of the IAEA and breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was angered by the cavalier rebuff to its compromise proposal for enrichment research on Russian soil. Moscow has its own quarrel with Tehran over the Caspian Sea. It is determined to see the Security Council deadline of April 28 upheld. Such unity is important. The UN will need patience and nerves to face down the Iranian challenge. But it must indeed be met. READ MORE